I’ve just returned from what has been named (not very poetically, I grant you) the “First Annual Cousins Weekend”. After a more than thirty-year hiatus my sister and our cousins and I finally booked a time and place to meet and hang out for a couple of days. It was definitely a “girl cousins only” event; we had to regretfully inform our mothers that they weren’t invited, which I suspect made them slightly nervous. One of my cousins generously arranged to use some of her and her husband’s timeshare points to reserve a two-bedroom condo in the Tennessee mountains for the six of us. For many years now the only time we all get together has been with the rest of the family at Thanksgiving. Last year we decided we needed to have some time for just us, and we actually made it happen.
See, “the cousins” have been spending blocks of time together since we were young kids. Here’s how it went: my parents would take my brother and sister and I to meet my aunt and uncle at the half-way point between our house in Atlanta and their house in Decatur, Alabama (the half-way point being a town called Centre, if you can believe it), and they would hand us over for a week-long visit. Then the next week, all seven kids (the three of us and our four cousins, all girls) would pile in aunt and uncle’s car and meet up with my parents who would take us back to our house for another week. When I think about it now I’m guessing the adults cooked up this scheme as a way to give themselves a break from their kids for a whole week, but I can’t believe it was worth it, given that they had to deal with the pack of us on their own for a week in their turn. But whatever the reason for doing it, those summers (and the stories that came out of them) have become legend in our family, and because of them a bond was forged between “the cousins” that endures to this day.
I’m not sure what I expected the weekend would be like, but it was perfect. The condo we stayed in had two “sides” connected by a small foyer. Each side had a bedroom, kitchen, dining room table, and sitting room. The larger sitting room had a fireplace, a sofa that sat three, one comfy chair, and a big leather ottoman; that was where we gathered. We pulled the other comfy chair from the other side, so we had five good places to sit which we shared between the six of us in an unplanned round robin (the odd man out had to perch on the ottoman or sit in one of the hard wooden dining chairs). We went out to dinner Friday night and out to breakfast Sunday morning, but on Saturday we stayed indoors, sheltering from the frigid cold and 30 mph wind gusts and driving snow. Sometimes we would talk, sometimes we would just read or play games or surf the web on our tablets and phones, but we stayed in that room with our feet on the ottoman all day. It occurred to me as we were leaving that we could have split up – some on one side, some on the other – but nobody did.
Our talk ranged all over the place; we discussed the serious topics of the day, the challenges of child rearing (by those who have children, encouraged by those who do not), our various maladies brought on by aging (including our universal need for reading glasses), our shared history, our plans and dreams for the future. As a group we love to laugh, and we work hard at trying to crack each other up. We played a dice game, and I pretended not to be impressed that I won (I’ve never won a game of anything in that group before, ever). We cooked and ate and drank a variety of adult beverages. We contemplated going out, but ultimately decided we could live without those few things we forgot at the grocery store. It looked way too cold, not that any of us actually went outside to check.
I realize you may be wondering why this mundane-sounding weekend was such a big deal. I won’t speak for the others, but I’ll tell you why it was so important to me.
The thing is, the group that gathered was not the original six girls who shared those summers together as children. There are only five girl cousins now (the sixth member of the group this weekend was my sister’s partner). We’ve lost one of my cousins. She was taken from us in 2008, snatched away in a matter of months by an aggressive cancer that found its way into her lungs. She was the youngest of us, and the first of her sisters to have a child. She had strawberry blond hair and an infectious laugh. She faced many challenges in her 36 years on this planet, but her kind heart and her ability to find the humor in just about any situation saw her through them. We barely had time to adjust to the idea that she was sick before she was gone, and her absence has left a hole in our family. Every time we gather, there is the place where she used to be. Over time it has become less acutely painful, but she is always with us, and I am sure she always will be, forever young.
At one point during the weekend I wondered why it took us so long to arrange the get-together, but I realized there are probably two answers. First, because we needed time to get to where we could feel the presence of the absent one and be comforted, not grieved, by it.
The other reason is this: I think if she was still living we may not have seen the need to get together at all.
Lives get busy. We all work and have families. We see each other at the holidays for the most part. There are a thousand reasons why it would never occur to us to take the time to get together. But losing my cousin has given me a sense of urgency about the time we have here. There are no guarantees that any of us will still be around tomorrow, or next week, or next year. We must make the time to be with the ones we love while we can. Nothing is more important than that. Nothing.
Before we left we began to make plans for our next “Cousins Weekend”. We’ve decided on the general location, and a range of possible dates has been circulated. It makes me happy to know that we will come together again. With luck, it will become a new tradition; we already have stories to share.
And, for me, there is no better way to honor the one we lost than by making this time together. I’m sure she’s loving it, too.
Thanks for reading my blog! If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle. The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job. I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.